Here’s what working at a good startup will give you:
1. Unbounded learning opportunities
2. Extremely accelerated career growth
Yes, startups do have some drawbacks
1. Riskier than traditional companies
2. Have less structure and less available resources
3. Generally your cash compensation is less
Want to know something really awesome? The drawbacks are actually part of the positive aspects of working at a startup. The higher risk means that you have more responsibility; it’s not completing a powerpoint on time but the survival of the business you work towards. That same increased responsibility is what accelerates your career growth.
If there are less available resources- if you can’t just call up the director of so-and-so or the expert-on-important-topic-ABC- you have to gain as much knowledge as possible and make decisions. The subsequent outcomes from your decisions aren’t far away either. Are you gaining more customers than yesterday? Is the entire site running faster? These are the unbounded learning opportunities, as you can serve as an expert-from-experience more and more frequently.
Oh, and much less cash, but I forgot to mention that you do get equity. Most likely, it’s worth nothing, but rarely it might be worth more than what a traditional salary could pay you in hundreds of lifetimes. Money alone, though, is never reason to do a job (otherwise be an investment banker)- it’s the first two reasons which truly matter.
Some people might point to jobs where you have unbounded learning opportunities and extremely accelerated career growth that are not at tech startups and, by all means, I consider those equivalent to a job at a startup in terms of attractiveness. To the best of my knowledge though, roles that have those traits (especially for entry level employees) are most frequently found at startups.
I’ve left the best for last- self-discovery. What really matters is figuring out how you want to spend your life. While working at a startup, ideally you’re exposed to more new ideas and get to try multiple roles in quick succession. As you move forward, you’ll know what you want to do and what you don’t- because you’ve tried it. So even when the equity is worth nothing and you’ve worked really, really hard (which is what happens at startups), you’ll have a better idea of what you want and how to get it.